Damascus Road Prayers: Advent 3


Glory to your coming that restored humankind to life.
(Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns of the Nativity)

Because of the shadows, we miss our brother’s face,
         our sister’s gaze.
The pace of the crowd moves us forward.
                       If you reached out
to touch my garment, I would not feel.
This power departs us daily:
       to see,          to know.
O Brother, true human:
You reach where least expected.
These shadows flee; let us not retreat.
Come where we scarce have courage to go;
       give faith
           to make us whole.

Catechism 52

What hope does everlasting life hold for us?
It reminds us that this present fallen world is not all there is; soon we will live with and enjoy God forever in the new city, in the new heaven and the new earth, where we will be fully and forever freed from all sin and will inhabit renewed, resurrection bodies in a renewed, restored creation.
(New City Catechism)

No fall.
When the door swings out and, face-to-face we realise
all our clutching life could only mimic, never be,

we shall not fall
for all our walking here has been stumbling.
Now we stumble –
for who wouldn’t, when wandering in cloud?
Then we shall move

in the fluency of union,
fruit restored,
life itself again – no shadow –
and never will we grasp for knowing
that we are held

and stay.

Catechism 26

What else does Christ’s death redeem?
Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good.
(New City Catechism)

Yet the cost went deeper than souls
     into soil
and weathered the tree-trunks
     and withered the whole.

The cost ate into friendship
      and truth
and sucked all the marrow
      from health and heart’s-ease.

So the victory’s deeper too
     than our sin:
the redemption stretches vast across bowers
     and sucks sin’s curse from earth’s veins.

Look on Him now: the one whom we’ve slain
     and trust
in the truth which digs deep into soil
     and restores the broken earth whole.

Catechism 23

Why must the Redeemer be truly God?
That because of his divine nature his obedience and suffering would be perfect and effective; and also that he would be able to bear the righteous anger of God against sin and yet overcome death.
(New City Catechism)

The price
too great to pay ourselves,
     the height
too far for us to reach,
          the stain
too deeply in for blemished hands
to scrub or take away,

the Son –
the spotless and unblemished one –
    the Lamb,
appointed from the start of time
         now comes
to take what human hands have wrought,
all suffering and shame.

No more:
the wrath is overcome,
    and death
is conquered with the Son’s bright rise.
        Now hope:
the greatest battle’s won,
the impossible is done.

Catechism 21


What sort of Redeemer is needed to bring us back to God?
One who is truly human and also truly God.
(New City Catechism)
Can both dwell in one body –
            God and man,
                        as though
            torn asunder, the two
were somehow reconciled?
As far as east is from west:
            the division of
                        holy and human
            yet brought somehow together,
one man across the chasm.
From dust, yet glorious:
            what does this
                        now tell of us
            who say, To err is human,
and hide in this excuse?

Catechism 19

Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio, "Madonna dei Palafrenieri" en.wikipedia.org
Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio, “Madonna dei Palafrenieri”

Is there any way to escape punishment and be brought back into God’s favour?

Yes, to satisfy his justice, God himself, out of mere mercy, reconciles us to himself and delivers us from sin and from the punishment for sin, by a Redeemer.

(New City Catechism)


Eve’s offspring – like a shoot
            from dead stump –
            will come
and crush the serpent’s
                        head, although
            his heel the snake shall bite.


bitter and long the pain
            and anguish,
            though deep
the venom’s journey,
                        though deadly,
            death shall not rule the day.


our curse, laid upon him
            shall crush and
            kill, he
shall look upon us,
                        his offspring,
            and his days shall be glad.


you broken: humbled, hope.
            Every creeping
            thing, rejoice!
The earth shall yield
                        its harvest
            and favour ever shine.

Lent 5: First Sunday of Lent

So bones, built to follow, ache

When trapped inside guilt’s cave.


Tongues, carved to praise, grow numb

When, dry and thick with sin, they lie in silence.


And hearts, taught to turn upwards in trust,

Grow ashen when no light has space to shine.


Open, heart. Untangle, tongue. Bones, rejoice.

Redemption light shines into every hoping heart…

Gerard van Honthorst, "King David Playing the Harp" http://commons.wikimedia.org
Gerard van Honthorst, “King David Playing the Harp”

Colossians 1

Qualified by grace to share in the light
And the kingdom which shines like His chrysolite face,
I enter the throne-room, a beggar, no right,
While the one spotless lamb hangs in my bleeding place.

Unsettled by striving, cast out of the race
(Failing to run and nose-diving my flight),
I hold the gold laurel, the crown of first place,
Qualified by grace to share in the light.

The invisible God’s perfect image: the sight
Blinds me here as I see Him, and yet I can trace
My story within His mercies, alight
And the kingdom which shines like His chrysolite face.

From outside of me, the gift of pure faith
And love rich in every dimension and height
Transforms me, pulls me into it, apace;
I enter the throne-room, a beggar, no right.

The glory which shines on us all now rewrites
Our stories of failure, our dead fruit and days,
Gives purity where we had only pride
While the one spotless lamb hangs in our bleeding place.

Uprooted by truth, I linger in space.
No sense in this; no, it defies all touch, sight,
The logic of ears and the world I embrace.
No sense, and yet now I stand, pure, bright,
Qualified by grace.


Before the fact,
Before the light,
Before the waters and their domes,
Before the dust,
Before the breath,
Before the rib, before the sleep,
Before the names,
Before the planting,
Before the harvest and the fruits,
Before the notion,
Before the garden,
Before the apple and the tree,
Before the leaves,
Before the crushing,
Before the biting of the heel,
Before the sword,
Before the cherub,
Before the roaring of the seas,
Before the dove,
Before the olive,
Before the bow turned up at me,
Before the child,
Before the temple,
Before the palm-leaves and the tree,
Before the skull,
Before the nails,
Before the breaking of the tomb,
Before the rise,
Before the many,
Before the Body and the feet,
Before the fall and rise of many,
Before the rift, before the mercy,
Before the Law, before the language,
Before it all – the plan.

12 Poets #1: Justification (After George Herbert’s “Redemption”)

George Herbert wrote around four hundred years ago, but his poetry is still powerfully immediate today. Perhaps it’s the sometimes shocking honesty of his work, perhaps the incredible confidence with which he moves between poetic forms and makes them altogether his own. This is particularly apparent in the handful of sonnets that he wrote. Herbert rarely wrote sonnets, but when he did they were powerful – so powerful that you often forgot you were even reading a sonnet.

Take “Redemption”, for example, one of my personal favourites. Breaking with a tradition that sees sonnets often being addresses to a beloved or an exposition of a theme, this sonnet is a story and one with an undeniable bite to it at the end. I have used “Redemption” as the starting point for a new poem which I have called “Justification”. Like Herbert’s poem, it tells a story which illustrates a theological concept. I have tried to stick as closely as possible to Herbert’s form without recycling his ideas. Here are both poems for you to read.

Tired out from night on night awake,
       Hurling back and forth these arguments,
       Revising who said this, made that mistake,
My head worn out, my body weak and dense,
I set before you my best-argued case,
       My final, full summation of the facts.
       The spleen I vented then before your face
Fell in the night, the thudding of an axe.
I turned to you, expecting angry flame,
       An answer thick with all your wounded pride;
       Instead I saw blood flowing from your side.
You smiled in the silence of my shame.
       All mine is yours, whispered your last heart beat;
       You took my words and nailed them through your feet.
George Herbert – Redemption
Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
    Not thriving, I resolvèd to be bold,
    And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
In heaven at his manor I him sought;
    They told me there that he was lately gone
    About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possessiòn.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
    Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
    In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
    Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
    Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.